DENVER DAILY NEWS
Republican state Attorney General John Suthers yesterday said a recent national report suggests that increased accessibility and acceptability of marijuana — such as medical marijuana centers in Colorado — is to blame for a rise in drug use among youth.
But marijuana advocates say critics are making excuses for a failed war on drugs.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse report attributes the 1.5 percent increase in drug use among 8th-graders to increased marijuana use. The percentage of 8th-graders using drugs rose to 16 percent from 14.5 percent the previous year.
“These increases in youth drug use are being fueled by the increasing accessibility and acceptability of marijuana use,” Suthers said in a statement. “Marijuana use can have grave detrimental effects on the developing minds and behavior of teens. This report highlights one of the side effects of the increasing social acceptance of medical marijuana and the ramifications of its widespread use.”
Medical marijuana is legal in Colorado, approved by voters and put into the state constitution.
Over the past year-and-a-half, there has been a spike in medical marijuana centers across Colorado, with there being nearly double the number of MMJ centers to Starbucks. Over the past year-and-a-half, the number of MMJ centers jumped from just over a dozen to over 1,000.
The Legislature this year crafted some of the toughest medical marijuana regulations in the nation, cracking down hard on both MMJ centers and patients, with a seemingly endless list of regulations, dealing with everything from cultivation to tax and fee requirements. Lawmakers even imposed a one-year moratorium on new MMJ centers.
The Legislature is expected to draft more tough regulations this year, with a heavy focus placed on doctors who make medical marijuana recommendations.
A recent Colorado Department of Education report on safety and discipline suggests a similar trend among youth drug use here in Colorado, with the number of drug incidents reported by school districts in Colorado rising 34 percent from 2008-09 to 2009-10.
“Increased marijuana use among youth has serious ramifications for the education of our children and numerous other important issues that could compromise Colorado’s future,” Suthers said. “Although the Legislature has chosen to legitimize dispensaries beyond what the voters approved in 2000, I would encourage policymakers to continue to consider and, if necessary, revisit this issue as more and more data reveals the effects of marijuana proliferation and use.”
But Mason Tvert, of the pro-marijuana advocacy group Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), says failed drug policies are to blame for the continuing increase in youth drug use. He says there is much less risk surrounding marijuana than alcohol. Tvert believes more youth smoking pot suggests progress.
“We would all like teens to remain drug free,” said Tvert. “But if they are going to use an intoxicating substance, they pose far less harm to themselves and to others if they choose to use marijuana instead of alcohol.”
“Alcohol contributes to overdose deaths, significant long-term health problems, serious injuries, and violent crimes, whereas marijuana has never been found to contribute to such problems,” Tvert added. “Teens choosing to use marijuana instead of alcohol are in fact making a safer choice.”